Sunday, December 28, 2008

Silent, Holy, Hanukah Bush / Such a Nice Brisket / LGCSF Crap-Array and Castro Theatre

This post is going up a little bit late, but you know, the holidays and all.  

LGCSF presented a wonderful Christmas "Crap-Array" which featured premieres of my Xmas carols, "Melvin the Elf," and "Melvin the Elf (Belt Version)," lyrics by Randy Timothy Nolan. It's about Santa teaching a selfish, errant Elf to enjoy doing good for others and making toys. *cough*.  Singer Noam Szoke made wonderful flyers for this adult cabaret using striking imagery for "Melvin," and somehow (not my doing!) these ended up being publicized as far off as Birmingham AlabamaSF Weekly's listing comically got all the details wrong.

Wendy Tobias premiered a new song I wrote for her for the "Crap-Array," "Christmas at Your Parents." Quiet Christmas at home or visit the partner's family?  You decide.

The chorus premiered my "Silent, Holy, Hanuka Bush," dedicated to my Mom, who never approved of such things.  This heartwarming carol was also performed in Tuscon, Arizona by Desert Voices under the artistic directorship of Chris Tackett.  The piece calls for mixed chorus and small, artificial Hanuka Bush.  Here's a picture of Noam with the Hanukah Bush at the LGCSF show.  Heartwarming!!!

LGCSF performed my piece "Such a Nice Brisket" at the holiday concert with SFGMC at the Castro Theatre.  The program printed for the event did not accurately list LGCSF's setlist or my piece.  Oh well.  Here's a picture from the concert, which really did happen.  

Last year LGCSF did my carol "Magic Snow" at the Castro, which spurred lots of local controversy!  "Brisket" is a fun but musically challenging homage to the brisket.  It can be programmed as a holiday piece or a serious concert piece.  LGCSF first performed it in their classical concert about food.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Funeral Parade of Roses at The Revival House at ATA

Wednesday December 17, 2008.

Funeral Parade of Roses (Bara no soretsu) dir. Toshio Matsumoto, Japan, 1969.

Queens, club kids, drug dealers, and cabaret managers inhabit a monochromatic post-war Japanese underworld, cinematically reminiscent of Hiroshima Mon Amour, and imbued with a quintessentially Japanese combination of the deeply personal and utterly formalized detachment. I am told the film was influential on Kubrick's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, and this may be true in the visual depiction of ultra-violence, but I can't source an actual quote from Kubrick himself on this. (Please leave a comment if you can source an actual Kubrick quote for me.) Sections of the film are almost experimental, and the editing becomes pleasantly free-form at times. The narrative is almost baffling and deceptively simple at the same time. Cleverly, cast members are interviewed within the film in a Brechtian touch; however, this is complicated by the presence of a pornographic film-within-a-film. Sometimes, the actors are interviewed as the actors of the porno, discussing that film; other times, they're interviewed as the actors of Funeral Parade of Roses itself, even discussing action which hasn't happened yet.  

Funeral Parade of Roses was the Revival House series ender.  Printed programs came with a CD of music from the screenings and web announcements, which is a nice touch.  "T" did a great job putting this together.  I hope this kind of programming continues in the future.  ATA's location on the vibrant Valencia corridor is great for this kind of thing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jake Heggie's Three Decembers at Cal Zellerbach

December 12, 2008 Cal Zellerbach Auditorium, Berkeley

Cal Performances and SF Opera present the West Coast premiere of Three Decembers by Jake Heggie, local San Franciscan, specialist in vocal music, and composer of operas Dead Man Walking and To Hell and Back.

First off, I notice the joint is comfortably half empty. The balcony was completely empty or closed, the mezzanine had a smattering of people, and the orchestra was about two-thirds full during the first act. I was seated in the left tier, row BB, with an excellent view of the stage; mine was the the only seat taken in a row of four seats. At least it's quality people in attendance. I did run into Leslie Ann Jones during intermission!

An over-enthusiastic usher shooed people away from the lowered pit before the show.  There might have been a reason for this, but I've not seen this kind of shooing before.  People like to look in the pit, is there a problem?  The pit, which raised and lowered for effect, held the singers, and a reduced ensemble was set up on the stage: two pianos, three violins, one cello, one bass, a percussionist and a smattering of woodwinds. (What no viola? How West Side Story.) Conductor Patrick Summers, who seemed to cue only the orchestra, manned one piano, and at the second piano was the composer himself, participating in his own work.

Heggie's style can be summarily characterized by three traits.
1. Tonality.  His work is conservatively tonal and easy for any audience to digest.
2. His melodies fit well in the vocal range of any singing voice he employs; singers clearly love singing his music, and you can see their enjoyment.  He builds a scene well and plans things out to optimize each voice.
3. At the same time, Heggie maintains a deliberate avoidance of anything catchy or earwormy. You won't leave humming a banal ditty that's stuck in your ear. 

The work, based on Terrence McNally's 1999 play Some Christmas Letters (and a Couple of Phone Calls), is neatly structured into three Decembers, 1986, 1996, and 2006. Gene Scheer's engaging libretto builds a full story around only three singers, a truly great challenge. It requires a real economy of style and strength of concept to create an opera that doesn't need a liberal peppering of supporting roles, let alone a chorus and supernumeraries. Sheer and Heggie pull it off in a big way.  (Heggie works well in this reduced format; To Hell and Back also relied on phone calls, letters, and a small cast.)

The story involves overbearing mother Maddy (a part written expressly for Frederica von Stade aka Flicka), her adult son and daughter, and the haunting presence of the deceased father which permeates the whole opera. The father is the object of obsessive fascination by the adult children, even if all the son actually remembers is the father's chair. The father has become an idealized figure for the children who feel emotionally neglected by their self-obsessed, egomaniacal stage actress mother. (Maddy thoughtlessly wants to exploit her son Charley's partner's AIDS death in a Tony acceptance speech.) McNally and Scheer capture the way many straight people in the 80s and 90s tried to glibly profess some kind of empathy for AIDS suffering while simultaneously revealing their distaste for the whole matter.

Set numbers provide intermittent relief from family drama.  Mom does a Broadway/cabaret type number.  The kids do a number about easing your pain by shopping for shoes, which to me instantly recalled Kelly's viral meme.  There's always room for more songs about... shoes. Heggie's shoes number, filled with intended and unintended intertextual references, connects the 1996 setting to today.  A song about women (and by extension, gay men) self-medicating via shopping for shoes seems at once novel and cliché on the opera stage, but of course, the audience ate it up.

If you missed it, you can buy a two-CD set of the Houston Grand Opera world premiere.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Spinet Mambo" Video - Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble

Music Video for "Spinet Mambo" by the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble.
Available on the CD Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble I.
(c) + (p) 2008 De Stijl Music (BMI)

Jack Curtis Dubowsky: Spinet Piano, Roland Jupiter 6
Fred Morgan: Drums

Recorded live in studio without overdubs.
This is only two people, playing live!
Also available on iTunes
Make friends with the JCD Ensemble on Myspace

Directed, shot, and edited by Jack Curtis Dubowsky.
Category: Music
Tags: Jack Curtis Dubowsky Fred Morgan electro acoustic electroacoustic new music contemporary spinet piano mambo wood wooden French bunny rabbit Roland Jupiter analog synth free improvisation drums drumming

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Marc Shaiman's New Musical

From Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, South Park (the Movie), City Slickers)

Ultravox on Tour in the UK

Could this be real?  Please buy me airfare and tickets!  I've not seen Ultravox since Quartet. (Perkins Palace, Pasadena!  Yes, with the giant building onstage that's on the Monument EP cover!) Interestingly, Billy Currie's website had a long blog, now taken down, which detailed bitter disagreements and negotiations with Ure, management companies, attorneys, and labels about various music business affairs.  (Its removal, presumably a condition of the reunion, erases an interesting chronicle spanning several years.)  Billy's website is still worth a visit, and I'm pleased to say his page on his collection of fiddles is still up, a page I find so cute and adorable, as you can sense the little conservatory kid still in him.

Tingle Tangle at Cafe du Nord

Wednesday November 26, 2008.

The return of Tingle Tangle following the exciting drunken debacle at another venue (read my blog of that one here.)  A wonderful Wednesday night, the return and resurfacing of old Klubstitute Kidz from yore, and all manner and sorts of performers.



Justin Bond with the barefoot, retro-Hank Williams/Lee Hazelwood Nathan
What is this???  Strange virtuoso bell-ringing performance.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Milk at the Castro Theatre

Reliably made by Gus Van SantMilk is a carefully balanced film which thankfully does not fall into bathos or pandering, nor whitewash its colorful subject.  

Given the final cut, I spent exactly the right amount of time on the set as a local extra.  (Just a few hours at one shoot.) Of course you won't see me, but have fun looking for me in the scene where the historic Muni trolley car is disconnected from its overhead power lines.  Talk about movie magic.  They sure made that look exciting.  I had to stifle a laugh when I heard the big BBZZZZTTT electric sound some sound designer had dropped in there.  

It's funny how much the late 70s do look like today, with the return of beards, facial hair, washy earthy colors, and tight clothes made of soft fabrics.  (Don't forget The GIANT glasses!)

Whereas last year's Paranoid Park was a quiet, emo, quintessentially Van Sant return to indie cinema, Milk is well-funded, liberal-minded, Hollywood fare. I kept seeing Sean Penn and thinking, no matter how well he does act, look, it's Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk! Isn't that funny? Maddy's ex playing a homosexual, imagine that. For contrast, we have Tom Ammiano playing... Tom Ammiano! And to think, they could do Penn's splendid Harvey schnoz and not have any Just For Men on the set for Tom?

Spiced with little cameos of known locals, the film should delight all who were "there" even if they didn't receive a consultancy or invitation to the premiere.  While not earth-shattering, it's a hard film not to like.  Although not a likely candidate for repeated viewing or major awards, Milk will hopefully find a national audience and win admiration for a man who knew the true meaning of "outreach," did real work to befriend other communities, and who didn't try to "educate" others with an air of smug entitlement.

The story of Harvey Milk speaks to politics today. Why did No on 8 lose? Why was No on 8 marketing, outreach, and television spots so poor? (What do you think Harvey have thought of this ad?!) Proponents of marriage equality didn't have a Harvey Milk, someone who could unify people, work with others, and inspire not only his own movement but people statewide. Without a Harvey Milk, proponents of marriage equality look for scapegoats on whom they can place blame, instead of building coalitions and reaching out in all languages in all corners with respect, which is what Harvey would have done.

Poison, Chant d'Amour at The Revival House, ATA

Wednesday 19 November, Artists Television Access, San Francisco.

Poison (Todd Haynes, USA, 1991) and 
Un Chant d'Amour (Jean Genet, France, 1950)

What could be unique and compelling about a bunch of kids watching DVDs in a drafty storefront in a town that already has an internationally renown LGBT film festival?  That would be programming which lives up to its slogan.

Todd Haynes, like Jean Genet, specializes in a fascination with the queer conversion of boyhood shame, punishment, and abuse into pride and sexuality.  This can be seen in his films Dottie Gets Spanked and Velvet Goldmine as well as Poison, wherein Haynes' retelling of Genet's Miracle of the Rose is also a cinematic homage to Genet's stylized tableaux of male prison fantasies, Un Chant d'Amour, shot by an uncredited Jean Cocteau.

For more on Poison, I highly recommend the authoritative book The Cinema of Todd Haynes:  All that Heaven Allows, in particular the insightful essays by Sam Ishii-Gonzales, Lucas Hilderbrand, and Jon Davies. 

Come see the Revival House Series Finale with Bara no soretsu (Funeral Parade of Roses, Japan 1969) on Wednesday, December 17, 8pm, at ATA, 992 Valencia Street at 21st.